Saturday, October 16, 2010


The language that we now use to communicate with our fellow beings and express our thoughts and feelings can at best be called a khichdi mix of English, Hindi with a dash of vernacular carelessly thrown in. But if we are asked the simple question whether we actually know our language, the answer, I suppose, will be an unabashed no. We glibly blame it on our cosmopolitan upbringing; we take pride in saying that we speak the common man’s language which is easily understandable; we give examples of such other words which have come to be used and adopted in the course of time but do not strictly belong to that particular language, e.g., bazaar in English, bus in Hindi, ijjat colloquially used in Bengali taken from Urdu word izzat so and so forth.

Blatantly hyped and extensively used by our media (TV News, Serials, Chat Shows Reality Shows etc.) this mixture of languages has become our notional language. With the exception of a few like Mr. Bacchan who prefers to use unadulterated version of whichever language, Hindi or English, he chooses to speak in, most of the times, our ears are assaulted by this “mixed babble” which has become our colloquial dialect. We pick up what we hear. This dialect has also invaded journalism, literary works, broadcasts (FM) etc. AIR is an exception. But who tunes in to AIR nowadays?

In this context, I remember an anecdote - my father’s childhood friend whom we fondly called Jethu (Tauji), was perturbed when his son who was settled abroad wrote to him that his Bengali friend and his British wife would be calling upon him for dinner. Jethu was known to be a close fisted person and would count every penny before spending (he left a fortune for his grandchildren!). But this time he was not worried about money. His only concern was how to communicate with the lady and whether he would be able to understand her diction. Jethu was an extremely well read person with a penchant for the theatre and the most embarrassing habit of vocalizing his political views (generally anti-establishment), loudly, to the shock and chagrin of the audience at large. He spoke English fluently but with a strong Bengali accent.

Finally the guests arrived. The much dreaded dinner happened to be a peaceful event. The next day when we asked Jethu whether he could understand the lady’s accent. He gave an impish wink and said it was the other way round. It was the lady who found it difficult to understand Jethu’s much refined English expressions!

Another example: our family physician Dr Sengupta was an affable soul with a florid smile. He belonged to East Bengal and spoke the dialect of the region fluently. So did his wife, a simple, middle aged woman who basked in the glory of her grand children. One evening in one of the community gatherings, we almost fell off our chairs when the lady on request, went into raptures and recited lines from Shakespeare ex tempore in perfect English. Later we came to know that she was an English graduate from an esteemed institution of pre-independence time.

Simple people leading simple lives with a love of language!!

Some of my learned friends have pointed out that borrowing words from other languages is a common phenomenon world over and is a part of cultural intermingling which enriches and enhances vocabulary. Agreed! When we cook we too put in a number of ingredients to garnish the dishes but at the same time we know the taste and flavour of each of the masalas that we are putting in. Stretching the same example to this issue my humble submission will be that before preparing the assorted linguistic gourmet we should have enough knowledge of each of the lingual ingredients that we lavishly throw in so that if one day if we are told to prepare a simple, unadulterated version of daal chawal in one language, we should not cut a sorry figure.

My grandfather used to say that proficiency in one language automatically facilitates proficiency in other language(s) because the underlying nuances are the same. Instead of hiding our deficiencies in several languages (Hindi, English and Vernacular) under the garb of a cosmopolitan tongue, shouldn’t we brush up our knowledge (read language) a bit?

We are fashion savvy, net savvy, tech savvy, mobile savvy, computer savvy and so on and so forth; can’t we also be language savvy? Or is it too out dated a concept?

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